French toast, Belgian waffles…English measles

There are some things you’d rather not have associated with your country in the medical nomenclature, and deadly diseases are one of them. Notice how this New Zealand newspaper refers to a recent outbreak as the “English measles” — isn’t it nice how the anti-vaccination folks have made a significant contribution to the language?

(via Bad Science)


  1. Knockgoats says

    Ah well, at least we didn’t end up with BSE standing for British Spongiform Encephalopathy, as I feared might happen in the late ’90s.

  2. Heraclides says

    Hate to correct you, but it’s also known as “English measles” in New Zealand. It’s probably a colonial thing :-)

  3. Richard Harris says

    I recently attended the local doctor’s office, (in the UK), with one of my daughters & grandson for his MMR jab. The nurse asked my daughter if she was okay with the boy having the MMR vaccination.

    I wasn’t sure whether or not I should’ve protested. I don’t think medical staff should be encouraging stupid behaviour, but, on the other hand, I guess they could get criticized if, later, the mother complained that she didn’t know what the vaccination was, & she’d not been given a choice.

  4. Heraclides says

    I’m kidding about the colonial bit, of course.

    I suspect it’s either got some odd historical connection or came about simply to distinguish “ordinary” measles from “German measles” (rubella), which New Zealand has (had) more that it should. Anyone with an etymological bent around…?

  5. Confused says

    Trivial point, but curiosity is getting the better of me: where did you get this from? I haven’t seen a post on bad science mentioning it recently, is it from an old post or a personal communication from Ben?

  6. says

    Hey, us English have exported so many other things to the ‘colonies’, so a few diseases shouldn’t be a surprise. :)

  7. Holbach says

    A like analogy would be if your version of your holy book contains a lot of pecularities and inconsistencies, then just liken it to the “English” bullshit, er, “bible”.

  8. says

    I can’t wait to hear the arguments the anti-vaccine kooks will have. Maybe another factually inaccurate post by David Kirby and RFK, jr on HuffPo. And Jenny McCarthy can read it aloud (if she can read)on Larry King or Oprah.

  9. Wildflower says

    “us English have exported so many other things to the ‘colonies’, so a few diseases shouldn’t be a surprise.”

    Not just the English and not just a few diseases. The first Europeans arriving in America involuntarily committed genocide on the native inhabitants due to all the germs they brought with them.

  10. Clare says

    Some of that genocide was deliberate, I believe (e.g., distribution of blankets contaminated with smallpox).

  11. Matthew says

    It’s common usage in New Zealand. The diseases were called English and German measles when I was in school, in the mid-80s. Nothing to do with anti-vaccination at all.

  12. Julian says

    And even without the diseases, we did a whole lot of killing. People seem to forget the whole placing a bounty on natives thing which didn’t stop until the late 1800’s.

  13. Paul says

    I live in Otago, New Zealand. Your “Daily Mail” measles has spread to here also.

  14. says

    @ #16

    That’s a much better name. You’ll also soon be receiving Daily Mail Mumps and Daily Mail Rubella. We hope you enjoy them.

    Incidentally the Daily Mail, perhaps sensing the approaching Shitstorm, have started publishing more “MMR is Safe and the Epidemic is all Panicky Parents’ Faults” style stories, whilst keeping us on our toes with the occasional “MMR Melted by Baby’s Brain” without specifically mentioning the A-word. Quite who the DM would like us to assume has been panicking parents I’m not sure. Your average middle class mother doesn’t read the Lancet…

  15. says

    “Some of that genocide was deliberate, I believe (e.g., distribution of blankets contaminated with smallpox).”

    Actually, most people agree that those blankets did not have much effect.

  16. KI says

    #18 Among the tribes that had been exposed, and who had already seen as much as 95% of their populations killed, not so much. For the yet unexposed plains tribes, those blankets were very “effective”. And deliberate, for crying out loud. Are you trying to justify it because you don’t think it was “effective”. That’s sick.

  17. AnthonyK says

    Even if the French do toast, and Belgians do waffle, I can assure you that English people are far too self-effacing to go measling.

  18. Clare says

    “For if you teasle a sneezle or wheezle, a measle is sure to grow; but if you pleazle a sneezle or wheezle, the measle is sure to go.”

    (or something like that)

    Please don’t tell me that I’m the only one with that stuck in my head from my childhood …

  19. Sven DiMilo says

    Freedom toast
    Belgian waffles
    English measles
    Estonian mumps
    Rockin’ pneumonia
    Boogie-woogie flu

  20. SteveN says

    For as long as I can remember I have believed that Down’s Syndrome, commonly known in previous times in the UK by the rather offensive name of ‘mongolism’, is known as ‘the English disease’ in Mongolia. As a Brit, I always found this to be quite appropriate and amusing. However, I have been unable to confirm this by scouring teh intertubes, so I must assume that this is just an urban legend. Pity.

    However, I did find this:

    “Of course English does not have a monopoly over potentially offensive medical labels. Rickets, for instance, is known in many parts of the world as the English disease, including Russia (angliyskaya boliezn), Hungary (angolkor), Sweden (engelska sjukan), and Germany (englische Krankheit).”

    …so now I feel better.

  21. ESPness says

    Staying with NZ, I can’t believe no one picked up on this story:

    North Shore Hospital emergency dept is going to trial needling for acute pain!

    Trial aims to target pain with pinpoint precision
    4:00AM Friday Feb 20, 2009
    By Jacqueline Smith NZ Herald

    North Shore and Waitakere Hospitals may be high-tech, but their emergency departments have started using ancient acupuncture techniques as pain relief.

    The busy, modern departments began trials of ear acupuncture on patients with hip and arm injuries in January.

    The woman in charge of the study, Waitemata District Health Board director of emergency medicine research Dr Kim Yates, said the trial – the first of its kind in New Zealand – was part of ongoing efforts to improve pain relief for emergency patients.

    Acupuncture has been used to treat pain for thousands of years, but few studies have been made into whether it is helpful in the emergency department.

    The Waitemata study uses ear acupuncture as it is more practical in the emergency department setting.

    “Scientists don’t really know exactly how acupuncture works,” Dr Yates said. “But the body does have natural morphine-like pain relievers, and international studies suggest the [acupuncture] needles trigger these pathways.”

    “We believe body and ear acupuncture is helpful in some settings, and for some people, but we want to find out whether ear acupuncture helps pain and anxiety in the emergency department setting, when performed by ED staff who know a limited number of set points for certain conditions.”

    The Waitemata District Health Board study will look specifically at the effectiveness of ear acupuncture on patients with hip and arm injuries.

    The health board needs 138 patients for the trial: 69 with hip injuries and 69 with arm injuries.

    It will continue for at least six months, until there are enough patients involved to allow the data to be analysed.

  22. Hans says

    #27: How about a French hood/capote anglaise, or do you consider that to be bad also?

  23. 'Tis Himself says

    In English speaking armies the term “French Leave” means desertion. In the French army a term for desertion is “Passe Anglais” (English Leave).

  24. Jim Thomerson says

    You might recall that the Pilgrams thanked god for clearing out the local indians with disease so that their stores were available. There was a French sailor who brought something ashore.

    Because native Americans had few domestic animals, they did not have many animal-transfer disease (maybe syphillis from llamas), and no experience with epidemic disease. Europeans lived closely with a number of kinds of domestic animals and had experience in coping with epidemic disease.
    Take a look here.

  25. Peter Ashby says

    I was reading recently that the UK (really just the SE of England) has exported measles to Northern South America, a region that had eradicated the disease. So the term seems to have a modern relevance. Though Wakefield Measles would I think be a good name too.

  26. Heraclides says

    Continuing on the theme of tit-for-tat naming, I recently learnt that in Tonga, ticks are called “Fiji bugs”. And in Fiji they are called “Tonga bugs”. Hmm…

    @8: I couldn’t find it on Ben’s blog, but I know a reference to it is in this thread (a good comment post, too): (see the post near the end by counterfactual; it has no link to the story, but it refers to the article by title)

  27. JohnnieCanuck says

    Ah yes, pet theories on foreign words.

    Mine is – do people in Frankfurt prefer to call the same thing a Wiener that people in Vienna would call a Frankfurter?

  28. JohnnieCanuck says

    So Wikipedia tells me that ‘English Measles’ is caused by 21 identified strains of the Morbillivirus genus.

    The point of this comment, however is to remark on the methods of transmission mentioned there, which include “semen, saliva, or mucus”. TMI, right? Who on earth shares mucus?

  29. Thunderbird5 says

    “Who on earth shares mucus?”

    Mr Thunderbird5 is who. Blew a spray of snot over me not 10 minutes ago (a bit got the cat but the most of the expulsion caught me right in the chops) although he assures me he’s had measles already.
    I’m sure he’s not the only human item missing their hanky

  30. catta says

    JohnnieCanuck: No. And yes. Basically, they’re two slightly different sausages. One of the two started being called both names in North America. When someone in Vienna asks for a Wiener he gets something different from what he’d get in Frankfurt and vice versa. In Germany, “Frankfurter” is a regional trademark. Sausages are complicated. And srsbsnss.

  31. tielserrath says

    The comment about mucus reminded me of someone who pointed out to me that the worst part of a lung transplant is coughing up someone else’s phlegm.